Able Danger Staff Hobbled By Lawyers


Just an FYI, the first 20 minutes of our conference call with Congressman Weldon can be downloaded here. More will be forthcoming.

Much was discussed and even a few nuggets of new information was let out such as the fact that he met with both John Lehman and Tim Roamer from the 9/11 Commission in June 2005, just as he was coming forward with the story. Both of them told the Congressman that they were never briefed about Able Danger from their staffs.

It is apparent as time goes on and more facts are uncovered that the decision to ignore this operation was made at the staff level.

Also Keith Phucas has written an excellent article today that details even more new information:

Just as “Able Danger” was uncovering startling links to al-Qaida in the United States and abroad in 2000, the data mining effort was suddenly ordered to cease operating that April.

For three months, a 24-member project team had culled data from thousands of Internet sites and compiled hundreds of names and locations linked to suspected terrorists. According to testimony from data analysts who worked on the program, Pentagon lawyers threw up red flags after learning that the data mining team was downloading information from Internet Web sites run by Islamic groups.

Their Internet access was sharply curtailed after attorneys raised concerns about the group’s practice of collecting personal information on “U.S. persons,” said Erik Kleinsmith, who as the Army’s chief of intelligence at the Land Information Warfare Center (LIWA), in Ft. Belvoir, Va., supervised the computer analysis.

As a result, the “Able Danger” effort was effectively shut down for six months. For Kleinsmith, those months would be the longest of his professional life.

“The most frustrating thing me for me was I needed to ask for permission in writing to use the Internet,” he said in an interview Friday.

Though the “Able Danger” team never claimed it located any of the Sept. 11 terrorists in the U.S., the group would learn after the attacks that its cutting-edge techniques had identified key al-Qaida members and their U.S. affiliates – including future hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, who were associated with a “Brooklyn Cell,” according to Congressman Curt Weldon.


Lawyers overseeing the data mining questioned the legality of downloading and retaining Web sites information and Internet protocol, or “IP,” addresses connected with “U.S. persons,” defined not only as American citizens but also foreigners in the country legally. At that time, this would have applied to anyone in the country on a current U.S. visa – including suspected terrorists.

The Army’s guide for intelligence gathering, AR 381-10, says analysts must make a determination within 90 days about whether they can legally retain data collected on U.S. persons. If not, information must be purged from computer systems. The large amounts of data the project swept up, however, made the 90-day requirement nearly impossible to meet.

There was lively debate at LIWA about an exception in the Army guide that legally allowed “collection” of publicly available information. If so, why couldn’t data be kept indefinitely?


“The more important point is that our team was tracking hundreds of names and creating dozens of charts for (Special Operations Command),” he testified. “And while most of these charts contained information and intelligence that needed further analytical vetting, we were still able to identify a significant worldwide (al-Qaida) footprint with a surprisingly large presence within the United States.”

From April until September 2000, his team tried to restart work, but found it next to impossible. All the analysts could do was watch-troubling hints of terrorist activities online.

“We were getting restriction after restriction,” he said. “We were watching the next threat, but we couldn’t take the battlefield.”

In the summer of 1999, the first test data mining project at LIWA searched for links to high technology transfers to China. The effort was a smashing success as the information dragnet pulled in a mother lode of names, places and hardware descriptions. But once that information made its way to Capitol Hill in November 1999, government officials got nervous, according to Center for Cooperative Research (

Next, federal marshals showed up at LIWA with subpoenas issued from Congressman Dan Burton’s office, Kleinsmith said. Government officials wanted copies of the data mining results.

According to the Center for Cooperative Research, the data included former Secretary of Defense William Perry and then Stanford University provost, Condoleezza Rice, among others. Other reports identified then Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and former Democratic National Committee chairman, Steve Grossman.

“I spent the weekend making 30,000 pages of copies,” Kleinsmith said. He said his group stored two copies in a safe and sent six boxes of material to the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel and a congressional liaison office.

With the data mining capability declared a success, LIWA closed out the test project.

In December 1999, Kleinsmith got a visit from Special Operations Command (SOCOM) officers interested in the program. By February 2000, the effort was in full swing.

Some traditional intelligence officials, however, seemed either skeptical or jealous of LIWA’s capability. At one conference, “Able Danger” analysts identified four major al-Qaida hubs – the Middle East, East Africa, Balkans and the Far East – in about 90 minutes.

“Because we weren’t an intelligence organization, we got a lot of bad press,” he said. “Folks thought we were running fast and loose with the data.”

By April, the “Able Danger” team was told to end its support of SOCOM. During the month’s long work stoppage, SOCOM’s patience ran out, and the military command transferred the work to a Raytheon facility in Garland, Texas, and continued the effort.

One of the million-dollar questions in Washington is who ordered the shut down.

“Nobody will admit sending down the order to do it,” he said. “It came from somewhere up in the Pentagon.”

Many speculated that Richard Shiffrin, the Pentagon’s deputy general counsel at the time, was to blame for the decision. Shaffer’s testimony claims Army lawyer Tom Taylor cut off Army support for the project.

Critics speculate that politics played a role in the death of “Able Danger” because of fallout from the China study. Others, including Shaffer, blame it on shortsighted Pentagon bureaucrats.

In the end, it didn’t much matter. An obedient Army officer, Kleinsmith grudgingly followed his orders and destroyed enough “Able Danger” data to fill a portion of the Library of Congress.

While he had deep misgivings about getting rid all of the group’s impressive work, an army of shadowy figures that emerged equally haunted him from the mountains of data.

“There was stuff that disturbed us, and we were losing sleep,” he said.

Amazing. The staff at LIWA had to ask permission to use the internet. Not like any of that is public knowledge. WTF we’re these lawyers thinking?

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